Surviving Special Days


Photo Courtesy of Steve Snyder

Isabelle, senior, Elijah, sophomore, and Luca, eighth grader, Snyder carry their freshly cut Christmas tree at Tannenbaum Farms in Centre Hall, PA. An annual tradition, the Snyder family has been cutting down their own tree at a local farm since Isabelle was in elementary school.

Isabelle Snyder(she/her), WSCH Executive Producer

Update: Though the holidays are over, I still encourage you to read over the following strategies. Special days of all kinds, including birthdays, spring break, vacations, even weekends, can be tricky. Wishing you joy in the year to come!

I find the phrase “happy holidays” very alarming. Maybe it’s just me, but hearing those words conjures up a vision of sitcom-esque conflict between uncles, with the smell of burning carbs and the echo of a baby’s raspy cries completing the atmosphere. For those who have lost loved ones, or are unsafe in their home environment, the kickoff to the holiday season carries with it a sense of grief and loneliness difficult to bear alone. And that’s all pre-COVID. 

This year, the threat of a deadly virus hanging over our heads is yet another layer of intensity added to the not so sweet layer cake that is the frightening festive season. So how do we do it? Navigate loneliness, politics, family drama, all while celebrating gratitude, and acknowledging and educating ourselves on the systematic injustice that robs marginalized communities of their joy during a season whose entire purpose is feeling joy. Well, sit tight, because this is your survival guide.

Before we get started, a bit about me. I find the holiday season incredibly stressful. I usually cry at least once, and have at least three broody meltdowns in the days between Christmas and New Years. The pressure to feel joy and relish the special, precious moments that you’ll never ever get back literally starts to break me. But all that being said, I am very lucky. Sure, my extended family might not share my political views or always know what to say, but do they love me? Without a doubt. So that’s where I am. Somewhere between a merry and a blue Christmas. That being said, let’s dive into some holiday survival strategies.

No matter what your season looks like, the acronym PIE can serve as an all-in-one survival guide. Is it a little cheesy? Sure. But I think we can all agree the holiday season is complicated enough as it is, so here we are. The secret to success can be summed up in these three words: Protect, Imagine, Engage. That’s right, PIE. Imagine the pi we know and love from geometry had a child with the spicy deliciousness that is pumpkin pie (controversial opinion, I know), and you’ll have an accurate sense of this PIE’s character. But the words themselves aren’t enough; let’s take a deeper look into their individual meaning.

Protect: This might be the most important aspect of holiday success, for without it, the other two are meaningless. You need to protect yourself. This looks different for everyone. If you feel your identity is being debated by politically incorrect uncles, or you are having to harm yourself in the name of “not spoiling the mood,” protect yourself. Should you run away from home? In most cases, probably not. But is it ok to take a step back, breathe, set some boundaries, or, god forbid, say no? Absolutely. You have a right not to answer questions about your life that make you uncomfortable. You have a right to eat or not eat what you want. Take care of your needs and your body first and foremost, because if you’re not well, you can kiss any hope of reaching out to family members goodbye. Protecting yourself might mean prioritizing your needs or quiet time, or it might mean playing a game with a sibling. It could also mean finding external resources. Centre Safe, LGBTQ+ Resource Centers, and National hotlines are available 24/7. There is no shame in seeking the help you need.

Imagine: This strategy goes out to all of my friends facing family tension this season. You are 1000% not alone. Before we get started, just a quick reminder that “Protect” comes first. The Imagine step encourages an empathetic approach to family tension, not an unsafe home environment. If you or someone you love feels unsafe, no need to wait. Seek help. But if safety is not an issue, and instead you’re dealing with wacky politics, heightened tensions, and soap opera-level family drama, look no further. Imagine is an extension of empathy, a critical tool especially during the holiday season. If a parent or guardian snaps at you, before snapping back, pause and imagine. Are grandparents coming over? Is Thanksgiving a reminder of family struggles your parents or guardian may have faced growing up? Though their anger may not be justified, your parent or guardian’s anger without a doubt stems from somewhere. It’s not your job to sort it out or act as a therapist, but you can extend a little extra kindness.

Engage: For many, the holiday season is nothing more than a time for pretty lights, fantastic sweaters, and heartfelt gifts, but a picturesque winter wonderland is by no means the reality for everyone. For those struggling with food insecurity or financial hardship, the holidays are a brutal reminder of all that is lacking. The onset of the holiday madness also marks the transition into cold winter weather, an especially difficult and dangerous time for people without a warm, safe place or house. These and countless other sources of hardship create an acute need for aid during the holiday season that we can’t turn a blind eye to. Take some time this season to not only protect and celebrate yourself, but to reflect on your own privilege and blessings. If you are able, reach out and help others in your community. Getting started can feel daunting, but there are countless ways you can work for justice this holiday season without significant financial or time commitment. If you are able, donate to a local food pantry, mutual aid fund, domestic violence shelter, or other community services. The State College Food Bank, Out of the Cold, Centre Safe, and multiple online State College aid programs are a great place to start. If you’re not able to donate, take some time to better your community by bettering yourself. Check out credible online resources about antiracism and systematic oppression. Even setting aside a few minutes a day to educate yourself is a great start. 

So as you proceed into the holiday season, remember, in addition to eating pie, practice PIE. Be kind to yourself and others. It really is okay if you feel different than you usually do this season. 2020 has been anything but normal, and the hurt, numbness, exhaustion, and anything else you may be experiencing just means that you are not alone. Protect, Imagine, and Engage this holiday season to the best of your ability, and may 2021 bring you peace and comfort.